Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Music/Musical Theatre

Blues songstress goes bush

11 January 2021

Local jazz and blues hero Jessie Gordon gives Seesaw readers an insight into Ballads, Banksias and Beauty, a program that immerses the audience in memories of growing up in Western Australia.

Jessie Gordon is no stranger to Fringe World regulars. The popular Perth-based singer/songwriter has won no less than 20 Fringe World music and cabaret awards. Ahead of another busy Fringe schedule, she made time to reveal the inspiration behind the first of her four 2021 Fringe shows, Ballads, Banksias and Beauty.

Seesaw: Jessie, in case there are Seesaw readers who are new to your work, can you tell us a bit about yourself? 
Jessie Gordon:
I am a local singer/songwriter who specialises in jazz and blues. I usually tour a fair bit and I like to keep myself pretty busy during the Fringe season every year with as many wildly different shows as I can, from singing gypsy jazz and French swing to attempting to play 90s bangers on drums (spoiler alert: I can’t).

Jessie Gordon stands in front of a wall. She wears a leopard-skin print camisole strap dress, earrings with giant black tassles and has her hands on her hips. She looks sassy.
Jessie Gordon. Photo: Josh Wells

S: This year is no exception to that rule – you’re presenting not one but four different seasons at Fringe World this year! Tell us about the first work, Ballads, Banksias and Beauty.
I’m presenting Ballads, Banksias and Beauty with Lucky Oceans, Ben Vanderwal and Russell Holmes. This is an amazing hour long immersive experience; three musical movements of Australian songs performed as slow moving, romantic ballads set against the backdrop of images of WA landscape.

S: What inspired Ballads, Banksias and Beauty
I had been performing a lot with Lucky and I loved the idea of doing a show with him with beautiful, spacious arrangements of Australian songs that were compelling and interesting. I was also interested in the idea of performing without being the centre of attention, and having projected imagery of the WA landscape seemed to provide a solution to that. Ultimately, I wanted the music and the video projection of the WA landscape to form this nostalgic, effortless, serene moment that washes over the audience.

S: What makes Ballads, Banksias and Beauty different to all the other shows on offer at Fringe?
This show is different because it’s peaceful. It’s a really relaxing hour where the audience can choose the way they engage, whether they’re actively listening, or actively watching the imagery, or just floating along being taken wherever their thoughts carry them. Ballads, Banksias and Beauty takes the unique and personal memory of growing up in WA and tries to transform it into a collective experience. 

S: Right now no interview is complete without reflecting on the challenges we are all facing. How has living through a global pandemic shaped the way you think about your work? 
I think this year has made this particular show even more poignant. I’ve been reflecting on how lucky we are to live somewhere with so much freedom of movement, so much space and so many free activities. A fact I’ve been thinking about a lot is that WA is seven times the size of Germany. I don’t want to brag (this is a lie, I do, and I will) but we have a lot of things to do and see here! And this show is built around our sense of space/place/belonging in this landscape and how we navigate that, which feels even more relevant this year than last.

Five songs you can expect to hear at Ballads, Banksias and Beauty
1. “London Still” – this is a classic from Albany band The Waifs. A wonderfully nostalgic song for me, and the soundtrack of my homesickness whenever I travel. 
2. “A Child Was Born Here” – An Archie Roach song that is heartbreakingly beautiful with the very powerful message to “be careful when you walk through this land, because a child was born here”.
3. “Whenever It Snows” – a Tex Perkins/Murray Paterson song which is one of the most perfect evocations of life up North I can imagine.
4. “Wide Open Road” – Perth band The Triffids recorded this in 1986 – it’s an epic tune that always reminds me of road tripping, the agony of love and the tyranny of distance.
5. Original songs – we have two original compositions in the show, one of mine and one by Ben Vanderwal, both of which are aching songs in their own way, neither of which you can hear anywhere else other than live at the show! 

Ballads, Banksias and Beauty runs 15-25 of January at the Gold Digger, Girls School, as part of Fringe World 2021.

You can also catch Jessie Gordon in the following Fringe World shows at the Elllington Jazz Club:
Sassafras present A Gypsy Swing Soirée, 4-15 February
Jessie Gordon Presents, 5-14 February
Fairly Average Dance Band present a Fairly Average Dance Party, 30 January, 6 and 13 February

Pictured top, L-R: Russell Holmes, Ben Vanderwal, Jessie Gordon and Lucky Oceans.

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked for over a decade as an arts writer and critic. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. Nina was co-editor of Dance Australia magazine from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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